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Decoding Confidence: The Five Building Blocks

By Mila Trezza. Confidence is often perceived as an inherent aspect of one’s character—a quality some naturally possess effortlessly while others just lack. This perception can be further reinforced by believing that once acquired, confidence is a permanent state that shines in all situations and at all times.

 

However, confidence is far from innate; rather, it evolves through a journey of knowledge, education and deliberate practice. It’s a dynamic skill capable of being cultivated and refined over time.


Confidence is also not a constant state. Occasional moments of doubt do not entail that we lack confidence. These moments of uncertainty may arise when we question our abilities to manage complex situations, deal with bigger responsibilities, or step up to new roles.


So, what defines confidence, and how can we elevate it?

 

Let’s start with a working definition. Confidence is the measure of our belief in our own capabilities. Being confident means believing in the adequacy and sufficiency of our abilities to cope and manage, coupled with the expectation that we will succeed.

 

How do we elevate our confidence? Let’s explore five building blocks that play an essential role in elevating our confidence.

 

1. Confidence and Self-Esteem: Interplay but Distinct

One important point to emphasise before delving into how we may develop our confidence is this: Although confidence intersects with self-esteem, the two are conceptually distinct.

 

Let’s break down this distinction: Self-esteem is said to be rooted in our overall sense of worth and personal value, while confidence is anchored in our trust in abilities and skills.

Confidence tends to be projected outwardly. It is often more readily developed compared to self-esteem, which matures through life experience and doesn’t necessarily draw from skills but is shaped by the perception of who you are.


Moreover, healthy self-esteem entails having balanced self-perception where you view yourself as neither superior nor inferior to others.


It is also a state whereby you genuinely recognise and accept your strengths and flaws, coupled with the ability to set realistic expectations for yourself and those around you.


Of course, despite their differences, confidence and self-esteem do overlap. Developing confidence in your abilities can positively influence your overall sense of self-worth, just as a lowered sense of self-esteem can shake one’s faith in their own confidence.


Yet, there may be instances where the two diverge, and we have a high degree of one but not the other. For example, you might be confident in your expertise on a certain matter and your analytical and problem-solving skills as a lawyer but harbour doubts about your inherent worth.


Understanding and reflecting on this distinction is one of the keys to your personal growth. It will guide your efforts and ensure you navigate towards a meaningful direction. For example, by reflecting on the difference between the two, you may realise that over-relying on building confidence, achieving more professionally or furthering your skills aren’t necessarily the pathways to growing your self-esteem and may result in short-lived success and happiness.


2. Confidence is Built on Self-Awareness

‘Feeling’ confident and optimistic about a particular outcome is insufficient to sustain confidence in the face of challenges.


Authentic confidence, the kind that empowers us to navigate and triumph in demanding situations, begins with a precise (and realistic) understanding of our capabilities and talents. It extends to being aware of our reactions to setbacks, knowing what we need to bounce back and what we need to operate within our strengths.


To leverage our internal resources, such as, say, our motivation in our roles, we have to know what sustains them and, equally important, what can deplete them.


Thus, self-awareness goes beyond a casual look at the mirror. It involves taking a long look in the mirror and a deliberate and thorough examination of ourselves.


Self-awareness also extends to understanding what gets in our way and has the potential to shake our confidence. For example, if you look at instances in your professional career when you questioned your confidence, are you able to pinpoint what exactly triggered it? Was it an ongoing lack of feedback from your organisation or a lukewarm response from a trusted person?


This level of self-awareness is the pathway to a more confident you. Despite the extensive evidence emphasising the fundamental role played by self-awareness for effective leadership, self-awareness is not (yet) a formal part of the curriculum in managerial training. Self-awareness, however, not only ‘helps leaders more than an MBA can’ but acts as the true starting point to any leadership journey.


3. Confidence is Trusting Your Ability to Cope and Manage

The essence of confidence is rooted in the Latin term confidere, meaning ‘to trust fully.’


In the context of daily work dynamics, this trust revolves around figuring out an effective way forward, finding the answer to a question you don’t know, and creating a win-win out of lose-lose. It may also extend to trusting your capacity to uplift morale in a depleted team and draw a trajectory in times of chaos.


The emerging ‘science of change’ shows that the current landscape is marked by an extraordinary increase in uncertainty, change and volatility. Growing your confidence in this rapidly changing world requires building trust in your capability: you may not have all the answers, yet you will be able to navigate the unknown.


Confident leadership also requires creating a vision rooted in this belief and trusting that your predicted outcome will overcome (some of) these uncertainties and you will be able to cope with obstacles along the way.


These obstacles and challenges are not only external, such as fast-paced change or the conflicting requests of your stakeholders but also internal challenges, such as your innate and human resistance to change and transformation.


4. Balancing Trust in Yourself While Listening to Others

Confidence is trusting yourself while listening to other perspectives.


It’s about believing that your chosen course of action is effective, not because you deem yourself better than others, but because you trust your skills are adequate for the task at hand.


Finding a healthy balance between relying exclusively on our capabilities and skills and seeking input from others is crucial, especially in leadership roles where decisions are needed daily. When decisions are tough and potentially unpopular, such as moving people and promoting team members, striking this balance becomes even more challenging.


Organisational decision-making also plays a role in shaping our confidence. Those organisations whose decision-making processes require constant approval at every step may lead to overreliance on others’ inputs, thus diminishing your confidence over time.


Conversely, organisations that lack structured approval processes and healthy confrontation forums may lead to less adequate support in decision-making and not offer the validation you need for growing confidence.


Regardless of the scenario, your personal growth lies in looking at your unique decision-making process and noticing what you seek when you go to others. Are you seeking feedback to enrich your perspective and take on board further experiences, or are you seeking reassurance that you are on the right track? Growth lies in discerning and understanding what serves you best to anchor a confident decision.


Another aspect of balancing trust in yourself while considering other perspectives involves not shifting the blame to others. Confidence requires taking ownership of our choices, irrespective of their outcomes. Shifting blame to others, whether another department or a team member, diminishes confidence instead of boosting its growth.


True confidence means trusting your ability to handle challenges (including unconstructive criticism) and moving on when things go awry. Instead of resorting to blame, you can consider the always-available alternative: learning. Trusting that even when decisions prove ineffective, you have the capacity, agility and openness to change direction, adapt and grow.


5)    To Elevate Your Confidence, You Need Purpose

Elevating your confidence requires the pursuit of purpose.


When we are clear about our values, our “whys,” and what drives us, we establish an unshakeable foundation for believing in our capabilities. This involves reaching a full understanding of the purpose in our roles, the purpose of those around us, whom we serve, and how our purpose connects to our organization’s overarching mission.


This sense of direction and being clear-headed about what we are doing and why we are doing it contributes to building trust in our confidence. For instance, consider the following questions:


  • What aspirations drive and inspire you?

  • How would you articulate your purpose?

  • Do you genuinely believe in your organization’s purpose?

  • How are you helping your team to connect with what drives them?

  • What are you doing to align your team’s purpose with the overarching purpose of your company?


Ultimately, it is the alignment and synergies between your individual purpose and your organization’s broader mission that not only enhances your confidence but creates the ideal environment for impactful leadership.



This Confident Leadership Series focuses on the skills needed to manage high-performing legal teams and enhance your leadership confidence.


 

About the Author

Mila Trezza is a former General Counsel of a Fortune Global 500 energy company and an award-winning executive and leadership coach. Her company was named one of the Top 5 Executive Coaching Companies in the UK for 2023.


After more than 20 years of international experience, having served as Director of over 30 companies, and lived in six countries, Mila developed her approach to coaching with the sensibilities of a lawyer in mind.


Her mission is to develop a coaching culture for the legal industry that is bespoke to, and has an inside-out understanding of, the challenges that lawyers and legal teams face on a daily basis. Through her coaching, Mila helps lawyers go from lacking confidence and feeling overwhelmed to having a clear path forward, feeling resourceful, and enjoying their roles. Her work on legal leadership was recognised by Women Influence & Power in Law UK, and she was the winner of the 2023 Award for Lifetime Achievement, In-House.


In addition to running her own business “Coaching Lawyers by Mila Trezza”, Mila acts as an expert advisor and consultant for leading global companies. #MilaTrezza #coaching #legal #confidence #selfesteem #selfawareness #coping #managing #listening #purpose #leadership

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